New test for defects in unborn children

Hong Kong scientists report that they may have discovered an easier way to test for foetal birth defects. In an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Dennis Lo says that he has been able to identify traces of foetal DNA in the mother's blood. This will make it very easy to assess the health of a child without risking a miscarriage with amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling. At the moment, the technique is quite laborious, but new technology should simplify it.

This development could pose some ethical conundrums. If it becomes widely available, it will certainly be used to detect and abort more children with birth defects. It could also be used for sex selection. Parents could also obtain a genetic profile of their baby and see whether it will be susceptible to a genetic disease at some stage in its life.

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